RSS in a Nutshell, Updated

January 14, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Having trouble keeping up with all of the information you find online?  RSS can help.  We’ve featured RSS is our newsletter before, but now you can subscribe to Liblog via RSS too. 

RSS in a nutshell 
RSS is a web technology that allows users to gather content from across different websites and view it in one place.  RSS automates the information gathering and selection process, saving the user time and effort.Imagine being able to read the latest headlines from the New York Times, the New England Journal of Medicine, and your favorite weblog, all in one place.  Now imagine that you could receive updates every time new content is published.  Well, stop imagining, because RSS can do all of that and more.  In this article, we’ll explore how RSS works, how you can use it, and provide some interesting “feeds” for you to subscribe to.  

How does RSS work? 
RSS is an acronym for “Really Simple Syndication” or  “Rich Site Summary”, depending on who you ask.   The basic premise of RSS is that it’s better to “push” content to users than to make the user “pull” content to themselves.In a traditional online information search, the user browses to a website or search engine, searches for the information they want, and selects items from the search results to read.  If new information is added to that website at a later date, the user has no way of knowing.  They will need to repeat their steps and compare the old with the new.  Most users do not have the time, motivation, or patience to repeat their searches on the off chance that new content may be available.  But if the website we’re searching supports RSS, we don’t need to worry.  We can subscribe to their RSS “feed”, and when new content becomes available, we will automatically receive notification in our RSS reader.  

RSS feeds are small files that contain information about the content that’s available on a website.  When you start your RSS reader, it will check for new versions of these files at the sites you’ve subscribed to.    If the content has changed since the last time you checked, your reader will display the new content.  This means you can check for new content on literally hundreds of websites in a matter of seconds.   

How Do I Use RSS?
Now that you know what RSS is, how do you use it?  Using RSS basically requires two things: an RSS reader and an RSS feed. 

RSS  Readers
There are many RSS readers available, ranging from the extremely basic to very powerful.  What any RSS reader does is pretty simple: you tell it what you want to read, and it finds it, updates it, and presents it to you.  What the more powerful RSS readers can do varies greatly, from storing all previously viewed items to setting up filters, folders, and more.   

RSS readers generally come in three types: standalone applications, in-browser readers,  and web-based readers.  Which of these you choose depends completely on your preference; standalone applications are usually more powerful and customizable, browser based readers are great for easily following a few feeds, and web-based applications are accessible from any computer connected to the internet.  One of the key factors is price; web-based and in-browser readers are gnerally free.  Web-based readers may also already be integrated into tools you already use, such as personalized home pages (Google, Pageflakes, Netvibes, My Yahoo!).  Internet Explorer version 7.0 and up and Firefox 2.0and up both have simple built-in RSS readers.  These readers are easy to set up and use, but lack many of the filter and folder functions that other readers have.   

Common web-based readers are Google Reader and Bloglines. If you’d prefer to try an alternative, a lengthy list of web-based and desktop RSS readers is available on Wikipedia. 

Google Reader logo Bloglines Beta logo

Once you’ve chosen how you’re going to read your RSS, you will need to find some feeds to read.  Finding RSS Feeds: What’s Available?
RSS isn’t just for blogs anymore.  Sure, those are great, but you can also get tables of contents from your favorite journals, PubMed search updates, health news, and more.   Finding them is often as easy as coming across an orange RSS icon on a web page, but there are many other places to browse through good feeds.  See the tables below for links to RSS directories and the RSS feeds for some of the major journals in science and medicine.  Remember, getting an RSS feed from an electronic journal will only give you citation and abstract information unless the Mayo Clinic Libraries has a subscription to the content.  To see what journals the Libraries subscribe to, check our eJournals List.   

 Medical RSS Feed Directories 

RSS4Medics Arranged by specialty and topic; includes primarily journals and scholarly sources
MEDWORM Arranged by specialty; includes news, PubMed citations, and journals
FeedNavigator A continuously updating list of news and journal articles in health with extensive coverage of major medical blogs
Ebling Library Selected list of medicine and science electronic journals with RSS feeds
University of Saskatchewan Selected list of electronic journals with RSS feeds, all disciplines including science and medicine

Popular Journals’ RSS Feeds

New England Journal of Medicine http://content.nejm.org/rss/current.xmlThe most current issue by RSS.  Current 3 issues feed also available from NEJM web site, as well as a podcast.  
JAMA http://jama.ama-assn.org/rss/current.xmlThe most current issue by RSS.  Current 3 issues feed also available from JAMA web site.  
Science http://www.sciencemag.org/rss/current.xmlThe most current issue by RSS.  Science provides several other RSS feeds as well, including a science news feed.  
Nature http://www.nature.com/nature/current_issue/rssNature provides dozens of RSS feeds including this one, the most current issue.  Others include Nature Jobs, news, and updates to a peer review debate.  

Databases with RSS Feeds for Searches

scopus logo
ovid logo
web of science logo

Many databases now offer RSS feeds for journal tables of contents and for any search that you perform. Databases that offer RSS feeds include the Ovid databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Mayo Authors, etc.), PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, Academic Search Premier, and Business Source Premier.  Many of the databases require you to create a personal account and log into the database to create RSS feeds for searches. Look for the orange RSS icon in your search results or consult a librarian for help.   

Subscribing to Liblog’s RSS Feed
Now that you’ve been introduced to RSS, why not subscribe the Liblog RSS feed?  Just click on the RSS icon in the right sidebar.   

 Matt Hoy
Luther-Midelfort Library, Eau Claire WI

Entry filed under: Feature Articles.

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